And Another Thing
Four football fans in a round-(pub-)table discussion
Jack Clayton, 76, retired dental technician
Rowan Clayton, 52, IT team leader
Paul Clayton, 17, student
Harry Clayton, 6, schoolboy
What can you remember of the first City game you went to?
Jack I first went with my brother in about 1938 and paid about half a crown, maybe less, to get in. I stood in the Platt Lane End – back in those days, the Main Stand was the only one with seats.
Rowan I think it was three shillings – about 15p in today’s money – for a kid to get in when my dad first took my during the 1961-62 season. I was about seven years old and I’ll never forget seeing the pitch for the first time, and then looking around the ground in awe. The atmosphere was electric and I was totally hooked from that moment on. I never wanted to meet the players as my obsession grew – they were gods to me and meeting them would have spoiled it, because they couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations I had of them.
Paul Although my dad still pays today, it cost around £5 for my first game. It was against Portsmouth and we drew 1-1. I was hooked from the moment I first entered the ground and saw the pitch for the first time. I was five at the time.
Harry My dad told me I was a City fan and took me to a game at the old Maine Road ground. The toilets smelled of wee-wee. I was only two and my dad says I fell asleep. I don’t know how much it was. Fifty quid?
Other than cost, what have the most noticeable changes been during your time as City fans?
Jack The pre-match entertainment was a little different back in the 1930s. Occasionally we’d have a brass band marching around at half-time. For a while there was a one-legged man who used to hop around the ground as well. He’d go around the running track and then sit down, exhausted – I still don’t know what that was all about! And there was no nipping down the tunnel to watch Sky Sports News on the monitor at half-time either. It pretty much consisted of queuing up for a cup of Bovril and sucking a fruit pastille. Obviously you’d chat with the blokes around you or have a quick glance at the programme. There wasn’t that much to do but we were there to watch live football, nothing else.
Paul My half-time routine’s not changed much in the 12 years I’ve followed City, to be honest. It consists of a pie and a trip to the gents – that usually takes up 15 minutes! I remember Ronald McDonald coming on to the pitch once, but he mispronounced the mascot’s name and the whole ground booed him until he walked off.
Harry If my sister Jaime is there, we like to play hide and seek when the players have a rest. I like to have a hot dog and a Coke as well.
Paul I can’t remember. How did we get onto talking about half-time?
Rowan ...I used to enjoy the suspense of the half-time scoreboard. There would be matches listed from A to Z at the back of the programme, and at the break this guy used to put each letter and score up individually. For example, ‘A’ might be Arsenal against Portsmouth, so he’d put up the number one, followed by a zero and so on for each match – it was all done in slow motion, but that would be the first we knew of the other scores. It would always end with the City reserves’ result.
Jack I used to get the results on the radio if City played away, but nowadays you can usually find a way of seeing your team live.
Rowan I used to look forward to the Football Pink. Twenty years ago, it was the only way to obtain comprehensive match reports, results and league tables. Newsagents would be packed with blokes waiting for the Pink around six o’clock on a Saturday. Now I just have to log on to the internet for a live feed. The coverage today is incredible, but I’m not so sure it’s as exciting or quite as much fun as it used to be, strange as that may sound.
What, in your opinion, has changed for the better during your time?
Jack I don’t think anything has changed for the better, in all honesty, except for being able to watch the games you miss on TV.
Rowan As an entertainment spectacle, football has a far higher profile than ever before, and it’s also easier to follow your team these days. When I was small, you had to wait until Match of the Day was aired to see other games, and even then the chances were your side wasn’t one of the featured games. You’d have to rely on match reports to imagine how a goal might have been scored rather than see it replayed from five different angles as you can today. Football seemed a lot simpler – but I don’t know if that meant it was better or worse.
Jack I must admit, the City souvenir shop was so small they only let two in at a time – imagine that today! Even when you did get in there, it would be likely whatever you wanted had gone. Nowadays, buying merchandise couldn’t be easier. Scrapping the backpass rule to the goalie was a good idea too.
What’s changed for the worse?
Jack In my day, there wasn’t any abuse aimed at opposition players. Everything was fair and above board. A tackle was a tackle and that was it. The players played the game and shook hands at the end.
Rowan Diving. There’s so much money in the game now that players will do anything to win and if that means cheating, so be it. Players today would never have got away with some of the antics you see week in, week out in the Premier League. It’s win at all costs now, but fans in the ’60s and ’70s would never have allowed them to get away with it. The dissent shown towards officials these days is another change for the worse – players used to show respect to the referee and accept his decisions.
Paul I’d agree with that. I think it’s also crept into the English mentality, too. You never saw an English player who dived 10 years ago – well, not to the same extent that Joe Cole and others do today.
Jack Franny Lee and Rodney Marsh knew how to buy a free-kick or a penalty with the odd dive, so it’s not entirely a new thing...
Paul Yeah, but in general it wasn’t as bad. My dad tells me of games between the top clubs back in his day and they’d be blood and thunder clashes with no prisoners taken. Today, if, say, Liverpool and Chelsea are on live, I’ll switch it off because they just cancel each other out and it’s boring beyond belief. I’d rather watch Stoke and Plymouth playing in the Championship than fall asleep watching that rubbish.
But surely if the players are fitter and the game is faster, the excitement levels should be higher?
Rowan Players are much more athletic and the game is a lot faster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. The Premier League today is full of top athletes – because frankly I don’t think you could survive if you weren’t – but with so much money sloshing around, I think it’s easy to resent certain individuals who are mediocre at best, yet earn millions of pounds anyway. I enjoyed football in the ’70s – the characters, the personalities and the way supporters were. I remember Buzzer [Mike Summerbee] taking a linesman’s flag off him and flagging for offside during one game. Whether the actual football played was better is another matter.
Jack I think it was much better in the old days. It was all about attack then and there was none of this endless passing between defenders, or trying to kill the game for whatever reason. Some players had other jobs during the week and the odd one could even be found in the pub before a game! I agree that the players today are much more athletic, but the stakes are so high it’s safety first, entertainment second.
Paul I can’t comment that much because I’ve only seen a few games from the past. It looked a lot slower and less skilful in comparison with the game today, with a lot of Charles Charlie Charles types... and not a back-flip in sight. Even though I’ve only been going about 12 years, I think the influx of foreigners has improved our game. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba can only help young English players to develop similar skills and technical ability, and I think this will show in future World Cups.
Rowan I don’t agree with that. In the ’70s every team used to have at least one star player – maybe two – and the England team virtually picked itself. Could you say every team has a star player today? I don’t think so.
Paul I can’t see our Academy players not benefiting from the likes of Geovanni and Elano, so we’ll have to disagree on that one!
Rowan Some players, like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba, are top athletes and terrific footballers, but they are few and far between. I do miss the days when every team, now matter how big or small, had at least one or two star players that could add thousands to the gate.
Jack I don’t believe there’s as many skilful players around today.
Results aside, when have you found it most enjoyable to be a fan?
Paul I like the idea of ’70s football in general, and being able to watch live games from the terraces sounds really good. I always seem to end up sitting next to someone I don’t know at matches and I’d prefer to be able to stand next to my mates, so I’ll go for the late-’60s. It must have been a fantastic era to have watched football.
Jack I have very fond memories of the 1950s and 1960s. There was always a good atmosphere in the grounds, but it was never aggressive or menacing. People went to enjoy themselves and watch a good sporting contest. You can still get terrific atmospheres today, depending on the opponents and the situation.
Rowan I’ll never get used to sitting down at a match. Obviously a seat has its merits as you get older, but all-seater stadiums have killed the atmosphere in grounds. When would away fans ever have sung, “It’s just like being at church?” when playing at Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United? We used to have the Kippax and during the ’60s and ’70s it was the only place to watch a match. I don’t think there’s a single football fan who wouldn’t bring some kind of standing back to grounds in this country.
Paul Maine Road was all-seater when I first went and the atmosphere was fantastic. I’ve stood at a few away grounds in the past few years – there was always a decent atmosphere and I’ve had no problems. It would’ve been great to have watched City from the terraces too.
Harry I would have liked to seen some games from the olden days – when my daddy was a little boy!
Why do you go to football – to see your team win, to be entertained, to socialise? Or is it just a bad habit?
Jack I go to see my team win and to let off some steam.
Rowan Win first, with entertainment a close second. I do let off steam, but there have been times I’ve wondered why I bothered going.
Harry I like being with my dad. I like to eat hot dogs, too.
Paul I like going to the games with my dad, my grandad and my brother, so it’s partly social. I want to see City win, but I want them to entertain me, too.
Is football still as important to you as it was when you first started watching?
Jack That’s a tough one. I love going and always have, but it’s never been a matter of life and death with me. I feel just as passionate about going now as I’ve ever done. I also go more now than I ever used to when we didn’t have season tickets. It guarantees that I get to see two of my lads and grandsons every week, so in that respect, yes, it is important.
Rowan Football was everything to me when I was a kid and a defeat could affect me quite badly. I don’t get like that any more because when you have a family and kids you realise there are more important things. I must say, though, that watching City this season has made my neck tingle again – I haven’t felt like this about football for many, many years.
Paul As far as I’m concerned I’ve always been football mad right from the off. I do try not to let myself get too depressed if we lose, but it normally manages to spoil my weekend!
Harry It’s not important to me. I like my England sticker the best.
Do you get calmer as a football fan as you get older?
Rowan I wouldn’t say you get calmer, just less active! Sitting down calms you down – that’s why there is less atmosphere in the grounds these days. Being a kid in the late-’60s meant that I needed to be a good runner at a few away grounds, though I doubt I’d be able to outrun a sloth these days!
Paul I’m getting worse as I get older, and definitely giving the referee more stick than I used to. I still wouldn’t swear at anyone though, because I sit next to my dad...
Jack I’ve always been reasonably tempered. I react to bad decisions as much as anyone, but bad sportsmanship is the thing that really gets my back up. I don’t think I’ve changed much at all, but I was never the most vociferous person in the crowd to begin with.
Finally – and most importantly – have footballers’ haircuts changed for the better since you first started watching football?
Paul I’ve seen some annuals from the ’70s and I’d say definitely! There were still one or two mullets back in the mid-’90s, though they were usually German or Eastern European players. I remember Rufus Brevett’s ‘Whoopi Goldberg’ hairstyle, though...
Jack Definitely not! I first started going to games around the time of the [Second World] War, so all the players either had a ‘short back and sides’ or Brylcreemed their hair back – as we all did. There wasn’t a perm or mullet in sight and if there had have been, God only knows what would have happened!
Rowan Don’t get me started on this because I always end up in stitches. I remember when a comb-over was almost mandatory. Ralph Coates and Bobby Charlton were the pioneers in my day and if a strong gust whipped up they’d be running towards goal with a two-foot matted strand of hair flapping to one side. Nowadays, balding players just shave their head. Boring!
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